So, Easter weekend is over and that can only mean one thing. Cassidy has to arm herself with a glass of wine and the remains of a very tasty Butlers chocolate bar, stick on some Leonard Cohen and tell you all about what I’ve been up to. During the past week, I have learnt the following things:
- a lot of sporting clichés are cheesy as quattro formaggio pizza (“they say a week is a long time in sport; you’re only as good as your last match etc etc.”) but a lot of them are also true. I had travelled home to watch Ulster put 8 tries past a battling Connacht side on April 11, had a wee on-pitch chat with man of the match Andrew Trimble and dashed across the Ravenhill turf to shake hands with Ulster captain Johann Muller (a man who is as ridiculously humble as he is ridiculously tall).
That night Ulster looked focused, a team who had come out to right the wrongs done unto them in the Heineken Cup. However, the performance turned in against Glasgow on Friday was pretty abysmal when compared to the previous week, plus we had to suffer another refereeing/TMO decision that I can only describe as a howler. I hope the team can recover some of the grit we all know they have, cut out the silly errors and make a real statement in their last few matches of the 2014 Pro12 season.
- what they say about public transport ticket validation in Budapest is true. It is all too easy to dismiss the sometimes hysterical sounding online descriptions of the inspector’s activities as bitter grumbling by ill-prepared tourists who got bitten. But it is true. When I hopped on a tram one evening during the week, I took out my ticket and stamped it using one of the little red punching machines inside the carriage. I knew to do this because I had googled it, read travel guides before moving here and heard instructions from co-workers. If I was depending on some friendly language free signage featuring universally recognised stick men doing a bit of ticket validation to alert me to what I needed to do, however, fuggedaboutit! The buzzer signifying that the tram was about to leave sounded and I held onto a pole as we moved off. As soon as the tram doors folded themselves closed, two girls who had been standing near me leapt into action. Whipping out ID cards from under their coats and jumpers, they went from being plain clothes commuters to full on inspection mode. They were shouting aggressively in Hungarian and moved quickly about the carriage, demanding to see everyone’s tickets. They were both a good 6 inches shorter than me, so they would have had a fair job on their hands trying to intimidate me when I towered over them displaying my validated ticket. But I’ll admit they were quite off-putting and I wondered how I’d feel if it had perhaps been two well-built fellas doing the ticket rounds. Also it wasn’t long before the inspectors has their first victim. One girl seated across from me appeared to not have a travel pass or ticket at all, judging by the hand signalling that was going on. The two inspectors both stood over her and continued to admonish her for a good minute or two. Things quietened down when we got to the next tram stop and I thought maybe a compromise had been reached. Nope. Both inspectors escorted the girl off the tram, her eyes shining. In my opinion, the commuters’ expression wasn’t the scarlet shame of being caught out, I thought she genuinely looked rattled. As the tram moved off, I could see the party of three crossing the road and stopping at an ATM. A lesson well learned, don’t chance it when it comes to the Budapest public transport system.
- On a lighter note, my achy back and this statue in the City Park reminded me today that I really need to find a English language yoga class!
– I learnt that a langos (a Hungarian deep fried flatbread, usually served with sour cream and cheese) is bloody impossible to finish but kürtőskalács (a sugary, pastry cake) are far too easy to polish off. I was defeated by the cheesy bread yoke while trekking around Margaret Island and finished my first “chimney cake” outside the Opera House while taking shelter from my first proper Budapest rain shower.
- After which I gave (hopefully accurate) directions to a group of Irish ladies on Andrassy utca. There was something so cosy and familiar about their accents, floating over to me as they huddled around a map. When they found out that I wasn’t just heading home like them after the Easter weekend and was instead here for work, their reaction was a collective, unanimous, “Well, fair play to ya!”
- And while I’m on the subject of cakes – I discovered some amazing houses of cake and confectionery that I will be frequenting. Fell in love with the display of treats and very friendly staff in the aptly named Cake Shop. Also discovered the diabetic coma waiting to happen that is Sugar. Of course I’ll be back there on a day when I’m hit by a craving for pick n mix. Even if their choice of gift items are quite questionable…..
- ….But the most important thing I’ve learnt over the past few days – why it’s better to travel alone. The answer to this travel conundrum came to me in a moment of clarity when seated near to a couple eating dessert. Why is it better to travel alone? Two words: one. spoon.